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radio creativity… selling the dream

Recently, the RAB announced a partnership with D&AD to improve creativity in UK radio advertising. This is part of a wider £350,000 investment by the RAB to address the medium’s creative under-performance, as demonstrated by the poor showing for UK agencies within the radio category at awards ceremonies, including the D&AD awards.

So, why the creative alarm when there is a poor showing at the big awards? Is there a lack of creativity in radio advertising? Is there a lack of creative skill focused on radio? Is measuring creativity by the number of entries into awards ceremonies really a good gauge of creativity? Let’s analyse this a little.

It seems that a couple of things need highlighting here.

Firstly, what the RAB and D&AD don’t, and obviously can’t mention, is the amount of hugely creative radio commercials that just haven’t been entered into any awards.

Awards ceremonies can be expensive. Relatively speaking. Apart from the RAB’s own monthly Aerial Awards, which are free to enter, you’re talking an entrance fee for the likes of the Fresh Awards, Cream Awards, London Internationals, Cannes Lions, New York Awards and the D&AD’s to name just a handful. In an industry where internally, creatives are often among the first casualties of a reshuffle, and externally creative teams are focussing on the pressures of client retention, it’s probably fair to expect that in difficult times, half of the creatives are fighting for their jobs while failing to clear the budget to enter a creative award ceremony, while the other half are busy focussing on innovation and new medias with easy, high-yield results. In the vast number of cases, radio creative and creativity just doesn’t sell airtime, and investing in a creative process for a radio execution is often difficult to justify. Which brings us to the potential elephant in the room, and it’s an elephant that the RAB does recognise. Is it possible that a perceived lack of radio creative quality, could be down to a lack of brand building commercials on air?

It’s a slightly simplistic view, but on a basic level, brand building commercials can often sound much better as pieces of audio. They are also often more creative than the price-point or sales specific commercials that make up the majority of radio’s ad load. It’s no mystery that for a brand building commercial to work, the creative is the key, and if the creative is to be the key to the campaigns success, it needs to have the support of all parties involved with the campaign at all stages. Could it be that the perception of a decline in the UK’s commercial radio creativity is not simply a perception about the quality of the creative and creatives, but is ultimately a judgment on the way radio itself is sold?

As a medium there is no reason why radio should have any inferiority complex around its effectiveness, its reach or the quality of what it does. It is a different product to TV and new social medias, and can hold its own. But this is often not the way radio rolls, or is rolled out.

It’s not uncommon for radio campaigns, for even some of the biggest brands, to be presented to a creative agency as fait accompli. Budgets are fixed and inflexible, time scales are restrictive, and possible executions can be limited by pre-booked airtime. It’s very clear that in many cases, the creative just doesn’t drive the decision-making processes around a brand’s radio activity.

This is not to say that this situation doesn’t occur across other media, but that radio is often a medium used as, and perceived as, a shop window for products and deals, rather than a medium that conveys a brands ethos and core values as an end-in-itself. This is not the fault of the creative or creatives, but a fundamental misconception and misrepresentation of how effectively radio works.

There is bad radio creative out there, just as there’s poor creative in all media. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that radio creatives are bad. Radio as an industry needs to take a good look, and decide how it will present itself to advertisers looking at a rapidly evolving future. It needs to give itself the best chance of shining. Creative, and creativity, should be seen as the beginning of the solution, rather than the end result of a sale.

Gauging how many entries an industry has in the big awards ceremonies only tells half the story.

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